After analyzing Grande Valse Brillante Op. 18, I noticed something about the form of the waltz. I thought at first, that this waltz by Chopin is in ternary form, like most dance pieces. However, there is a second middle section that makes me doubt the ternary form hypothesis. There is another thing that I noticed which is also atypical for a waltz. That would be a dominant lock or dominant preparation. This further made me doubt that it is just in an atypical ternary form. Here is what I saw in each section:

Introduction: Measures 1-4

First Theme of A section: Measures 5-20

Second Theme of A section: Measures 21-37

First Theme again: Measures 38-52

Second Theme again: Measures 53-69

First Theme of B section: Measures 70-85

Second Theme of B section: Measures 86-102

First Theme again: Measures 103-118

Digression Theme: Measures 119-134

Cadenza: Measures 136-151

Digression Theme again: Measures 152-167

Gb Major passage: Measures 168-183

Dominant Lock: Measures 184-192

First Theme of A section again: Measures 193-208

Second Theme of A section again: Measures 208-224

First Theme again: Measures 225-241

Coda: Measures 242-311

If you tried to fit this into Ternary Form, it just wouldn't work. The Digression is too far apart from the B section to act like an extension of it. And the Dominant Lock really confirms that this isn't in Ternary Form on the large scale(as in, the entire piece). However, if you tried to fit this into Sonata Form, this is what you would get:

Introduction: Measures 1-4

Exposition(A section): Measures 5-69

Development(B section + Digression): Measures 70-192

Recapitulation(A section): Measures 193-241

Coda: Measures 242-311

Now, that seems a lot more reasonable than trying to fit it into Ternary Form. But, waltzes, even Romantic Period waltzes are typically in Ternary Form. And this is the earliest published waltz by Chopin and second most well known waltz by Chopin.

Here is my complete formal and harmonic analysis of the piece if you want to see it. I didn't use Sonata Form terms for my analysis, but did clarify that I feel that this Waltz is in a form very similar to Sonata Form.


How is Chopin able to mesh together Sonata Form and the waltz so well? Sonata Form isn't typically used for any type of dance, not even the most elaborate of them. And yet, Chopin is able to mesh together Sonata Form and the waltz very well in Grande Valse Brillante Op. 18 How?

  • It might make sense to analyze any piece of music through the glasses of the sonata form: To learn to apply the elements of the sonata form ... It will be possible to identify such elements in all kind of Compositions. But in my opinion it doesn’t make much sense to ask her how is the composer able to do so. (It looks as if you were searching about same letters in different words and wonder how this was possible.) Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 8:18
  • 2
    I looked at your annotated version of that waltz, and it still looks like it's in ternary form with a coda to me instead of sonata-allegro form. Of note: what you claim is the recapitulation does NOT change keys from the original/"exposition" version at all, and the B section never seems to come back in any significant way (ergo, I cannot call it an exposition second theme group), so I think it's a pretty hard sell to claim this uses a variant of sonata-allegro form.
    – Dekkadeci
    Commented Nov 8, 2019 at 11:42

5 Answers 5


A musical form is not a jelly-mould into which a composer pours some notes, and out comes a composition.

If a piece by Chopin doesn't "fit" the jelly-mould described in a textbook, the most likely option is that the textbook is "wrong," not the Chopin was "wrong".

This basic misconception seems to occur in many of the OP's posts, but arguing the specific details of each individual case gets tiresome after a while.

E.g. What makes a piece sound like Beethoven? Could this Scherzo by Beethoven be considered to be a fugue? Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor breaks the "no parallel octaves" rule? What makes a Turkish March a Turkish March? and several others...


The waltz is not in sonata form as commonly understood, nor even as it was extended greatly by romantic period composers. One of the few consistent features of sonata form is the return of the second theme in the tonic key in the recapitulation. (In the 20th century, this even became known as the "sonata principle" because it's the most characteristic element of such forms.) That does not happen here. Instead, the recapitulation as you have labeled it is a small aba structure, which is very common in large ternary forms during the return section.

(EDIT in response to comment: I didn't want to get into more rare corner cases here, but the general sonata principle is about transposing part of the recap so the modulation that initially takes us away from tonic actually tends to return to tonic. That alteration can occur in various places in the recap, but usually involves some transposition of the second theme so that the second theme group ends with a PAC to tonic.)

There are many other aspects that make this structure fall far outside the norms of "sonata form" as commonly understood, but without a transposed second theme in the "recap," it's not generally considered a sonata form.

Instead, it's a broadly expanded structure common to the wide-ranging ternary forms of the 19th century. It is unusual in some respects because the A sections of a ternary form are usually tonally closed. But the deviation here is that Chopin's "exposition" is abab form, rather than the more typical aba form for the first section. This allows a springboard to modulate from A-flat to D-flat for the B section. The more typical move in a ternary form is just to have the B section in the subdominant key. But using abab in the first section allows him to use the subdominant of the subdominant.

The only evidence given in the question to support the idea that it can't be ternary is the use of "dominant lock" before the recap. But ternary forms and rounded binary forms very frequently have a retransition to the original key that can involve standing on the dominant.

Meanwhile, there are several things that confirm this is based on historically typical ternary forms:

  • aba structure for the A sections (sonata forms don't typically repeat the opening theme exactly after the second theme is introduced)
  • movement to the subdominant type keys for contrasting sections (very typical for ternary forms)
  • little thematic/motivic connection between the middle B section ("development"?) and the exposition; in sonata forms, there is usually some thematic connections, while in ternary forms the B section is meant to be completely contrasting, as it is here
  • it's atypical for sonata forms to have a development consisting of neat little parallel periods of well-organized contrasting themes; it's very typical for large ternary forms to have a B section organized that way (as it is here)

This is not a stereotypical ternary by any means, but it has its historical roots in small ternary dance forms.

Lastly, "How is Chopin able to mesh together Sonata Form and the waltz so well?" Chopin didn't even know about a thing called "sonata form" as the concept hadn't really been formalized until around the time he died. The first formalized account of "sonata form" as we now understand it came in Reicha's treatise in the mid-1820s, but our modern concept of "sonata form" really comes out of A.B. Marx's treatises and his studies of Beethoven, which weren't published until after this waltz was written.

So, Chopin definitely wasn't intending to put his waltz in "sonata form," as he would never have been instructed in such a concept. Instead, what he would have understood is the form that late 18th and early 19th century composers used in the Allegro movement that began things like symphonies and sonatas. And you're right, he wouldn't have written a dance in that form, because it would require a lot of different types of development of themes, modulations in different places, etc., which he doesn't do in this waltz.

  • +1, a sufficiently elaborate rondo structure can be indistinguishable from a sonata form. Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 12:31
  • @KilianFoth: True, though again I wouldn't call this a typical sonata-rondo either, as an ABACABA rondo form typically transposes the final B section to tonic (like the sonata form), which doesn't happen here. But this piece could definitely be seen as one sort of rondo that also has commonalities with simpler ternary dance forms.
    – Athanasius
    Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 13:13
  • You can certainly have a sonata form where the second theme is not in the tonic key in the recapitulation. That is the composer's choise. Example: Beethoven's Sonata Pathétique where the second theme in the recapitulation is in the subdominant. Even the first theme can be in a different key but tonic although it is very rare. In Mozart C major sonata K. 545 the recapitulation of the first theme is in the subdominant. You return to the tonic when the second theme appears in the recapitulation. Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 15:27
  • @LarsPeterSchultz - actually, the general sonata principle is that the second theme is transposed in the recap, so that the piece will ultimately end in tonic, not necessarily that the second theme starts in tonic. The Pathetique's second theme is definitely transposed in the recap to lead back toward the tonic at the end of the movement. And you have it a bit backwards: it's actually more common for the first theme in the recap not to occur in tonic: in early sonata forms the whole recap was transposed, so it frequently started in IV and would modulate to I to end the piece.
    – Athanasius
    Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 15:52

" How is Chopin able to mesh together Sonata Form and the waltz so well?"

The answer is probably simply "because he's a genius"

A waltz was originally a piece for dancing and dancers have certain expectations of form. Chopin's waltzes are purely concert pieces and never intended for dancing, so he would not have felt constricted by the standard form. He calls this a waltz only because he's using the stylistic elements of the waltz. Chopin certainly knew waltz form and sonata form, but he was free to write whatever he wanted. If he was sitting at his desk composing and thought "hey, it would be really cool if I went to the dominant here" he just went ahead and did it. (Those were almost certainly not his exact words). There's probably little to be gained by retroactively imposing a theoretical form on his piece.


It isn't a sonata.

It fits easily into ternary form. The "A" section is the two themes in Eb and Ab. The middle "B" section is the part in Db. The demarcation of those sections is pretty obvious as they are indicated by the key signature changes for bars 69-188 for the "B" section.

Merely repeating a theme is not a recapitulation. The basic idea of a recapitulation is to play something in a key that isn't the opening tonic key and then later repeat that theme in the opening tonic key.

If this waltz had been treated like a sonata, the theme in Ab with the repeated note figure would have been repeated at the closing in the opening tonic key of Eb. The return to Eb would have been accomplished by the whole theme being in Eb. Yes, that repeated note figure is used starting at m. 243 on an Eb chord, but that is the coda! Structurally it already returned to Eb and it stays in Eb. The re-use of that thematic material is not initiating the return to the tonic.

How does Sonata Form fit into a Waltz?

Waltz is really a rhythmic style. It's basically the bass chord chord accompaniment pattern in 3/4 meter at a brisk tempo. It's probably better to re-phrase the question how can waltz rhythm fit into sonata form?


@Caters First of all I would say that there is nothing which prevents a composer from using sonata form ideas in any composition whether it is a waltz or whatever it is. Afterall the sonata form in essence is a big ABA form, so any type of music that is essentially thought of as an ABA form could be evolved into a sonata form with two themes in the A part, then the B part which is the development followed by a recapitulation of the A part.

Sometimes a sonata form can even include a huge coda that is really another development section.

So my point is that composers don't just follow the ideas that exist they also develop new ideas within the known forms or use the structure of the known forms in their own way as well as experimenting with other forms.

But I wouldn't really call Chopin's op. 18 a piece in sonata form although I do understand your ideas. It is interesting to read your analysis; you have certainly been working with the structure of this piece.

Yes there is a recapitulation of the first part after a long journey through many different beautiful sections. It actually reminds me of the rondo form, note that I did not say it is a Rondo Form I only said "reminds".

In the Rondo Form form, a principal theme alternates with one or more contrasting themes. In this piece you have several contrasting themes like in a rondo, you just don't get the principal theme in between all the contrasting themes. First at the end you get the principal theme again.

Here is an overview:


Measures 1-4

A section:

First Theme of A section: Measures 5-20. Bar 5-20 is repeated

Second Theme of A section: Measures 21-37

First Theme again: Measures 38-52

Second Theme again: Measures 53-69

B section:

The B section is a Ternary Form as follows:

First Theme of B section: Measures 70-85. Bar 70-85 is repeated

Second Theme of B section: Measures 86-102

First Theme of B section again: Measures 103-118

C section:

The C section is also a Ternary Form as follows:

First Theme of C section: Measures 119-134. Bar 119-134 is repeated

Second Theme of C section: Measures 136-151. First Theme of C section again: Measures 152-167. Bar 136-167 is repeated

D section:

New theme in Gb Major: Measures 168-183

Transition leading to the theme from the A section: Measures 184-192

The A section recapitulated:

First Theme of A section again: Measures 193-208

Second Theme of A section again: Measures 208-224

First Theme of A section again with some surprising pauses at the end which work like a transition into the coda: Measures 225-241

E section, Coda:

Measures 242-311

The coda has material from the Second Theme of the C section as well as the First Theme of the A section and the Second Theme of the A section.

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